Josh Gorges has had his day in the sun.
A veteran of 783 games and 13 NHL seasons, the now-retired former Montreal Canadiens defenseman just wants to give back to the game by coaching his kid’s team with Kelowna Minor Hockey.
Unfortunately for Gorges he can’t do so as he and others are pawns in a political war that is going on between the B.C. Hockey League and Hockey Canada.
This past summer, the BCHL decided to break away from the jurisdiction of Hockey Canada due to philosophical differences, with the main issue being the fact that 16 and 17-year-old players had to have their parents have residency within the province if they wanted to play in the BCHL. The same rule applies nation-wide to all junior leagues except the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
That rule was a deal-breaker for the BCHL, whose main selling point is providing NCAA prospects with an extremely high level of competition and exposure. The 61-year-old league is a feeder system for NCAA hockey with 321 alumni currently playing at that level according to the league’s website.
The BCHL’s approach also conflicts with Hockey Canada’s model which likes to see kids graduating to the three major junior leagues rather than the NCAA – even though they have no issue with having NCAA players on their national teams representing the country in international competitions.
According to BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb, the league prepared a 35-page white paper to suggest a coordinated effort with BC Hockey and Hockey Canada. The latter didn’t even respond to the initiative while the former was dismissive.
The end result is that BC Hockey and Hockey Canada are coming down hard on players, coaches, referees, teams or organizations that are associating themselves with the BCHL and promising dire consequences as Ben Lypka of Black Press Media pointed out in his story found here.
As for Gorges, all he wants to do is give back to the game he loves.
As a Player Development Consultant for the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL and as a hockey dad who wants to coach his kid’s team, Gorges has been caught in the middle of this conflict.
“It was at some point, late spring or early summer, I can’t remember exactly but we knew that the BCHL was moving away from B.C. Hockey. That’s when I started to ask questions about what my status would be as a volunteer coach for minor hockey. At the time I was like, wow, they’re not going to say I can’t coach eight-year-old kids because I work with a junior team because I don’t understand where the conflict would be. It’s not like I can take my eight or nine-year olds and switch them over to the BCHL. But then I filed for my application to coach my son’s minor hockey team and it got denied. That’s when I was like, “Oh, this is real,” explained Gorges, who placed an appeal with B.C Hockey and Hockey Canada but ultimately was denied an exemption.
Gorges is certified to coach rep hockey up to U-18 but would have needed to take additional courses to be qualified to coach his boy’s team. He was planning on doing so, but once his appeal was denied, he decided there was no reason to go ahead with the process.
With one son already playing in the HPL (High Performance Level) League which is also not recognized by Hockey Canada, Gorges opted to remain with the Warriors, help coach the HPL team and help with his other son’s Kelowna Minor team in a limited capacity.
“I can go on the ice for practice and assist in practice. I’m not allowed to take control or direct any of the practice and I’m not allowed to be on the bench because of an apparent liability issue,” said Gorges, who retired from the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres in 2018.
Gorges strongly emphasizes that this isn’t about him. It’s about giving back which I know from personal experience is part of his DNA. He’s always been involved in charity events in the Kelowna area, whether it’s been fundraisers for the Kelowna Hospital Foundation or golf tournaments, he’s selfless with his time.
Now he just wants to be able to give back to kids – and give back to the game.
“There’s nothing in my life that’s given me greater joy than being with these little kids and seeing them develop and grow and knowing that I can help them be a part of their dream that they’re chasing. I love it - I just love it. It’s not like I’m doing it because I have nothing else to do. I actually want to. I just love being on the ice with these kids. I have fun with them. I push them hard in a way that they seem to enjoy - they don’t get frustrated with it,” said Gorges.
“I build relationships with these little kids and I become close with them to the point where I walk through most rinks in Kelowna and there’s usually two or three that come right up to me and say ‘Hi Coach’. To me that’s the greatest feeling - these little kids who might look up to me and acting on the things that I tell them – it provides me with a lot of joy. I know if my kids had to learn from somebody who’s been where they want to go, I’d want them to learn from them. And I’ve always thought, there comes a responsibility with us as players to give back to the next generation - to come back and help continue to grow the game so that it’s better than when we got to it.”
As far as the ongoing saga, Hebb and the BCHL have requested a meeting with Federal Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough to voice their concerns of what the perceive to be actions contradictory to Hockey Canada’s mandate which is to promote the game in Canada.
In the meantime, Gorges and others continue to pay the price.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.